Archive for May, 2011

In LED Patent Suit CAO Group Protects its Dynasty

May 26th, 2011

 

CAO Group (CAO) is a Utah-based company that designs and sells a variety of dental, veterinary, forensic and lighting products including the Dynasty line of LED lamps.

CAO owns U.S. Patents Nos. 6,465,961 (’961 Patent), 6,634,770 (’770 Patent), and 6,746,885 (885 Patent), which relate to LED technology embodied by the Dynasty lamps.

Earlier this month CAO asserted the ’961, ’770 and ’885 Patents against a host of LED lamp makers.  The patent infringement complaint (CAO_Complaint), filed in federal court in Utah, names as defendants GE Lighting, Osram Sylvania, Lighting Science Group, Nexxus Lighting, Sharp Electronics, Toshiba, Feit Electric Company, and Lights of America.

The asserted patents are directed to an LED light source (100) with a heat sink (104) that has multiple panels (104b-i).  Each panel may host one or more LED chips (106), which can be arranged to transmit light in multiple directions.

The arrangement of panels (104b-i) can be varied to facilitate emission of light from the LED chips (106) based on the desired directions of light.

Figure 6 shows that the heat sink (403) may include a lining of thermal electric material (405) that lines an air chamber (406).

By applying a voltage to the thermal electric material (405), its temperature can be lowered and heat can be drawn from the heat sink material (403), which in turn draws heat away from the LED chips (402).

According to the asserted patents, this LED lamp structure efficiently dissipates the heat produced by the LEDs. 

CAO’s complaint is the latest in the very hot area of LED patent infringement litigation and the third such suit filed in the last month (see my post about the Cree and Takion suits here).

Green Patent Acquisitions: BASF Buys inge watertechnologies

May 22nd, 2011

In a move to strengthen its position in water treatment, chemical giant BASF recently announced that it will acquire German water filtration membrane developer inge watertechnologies (inge).

Inge makes ultrafiltration systems used to treat drinking water, wastewater, and seawater and specializes in filtration modules and rack designs for water treatment plants.

Inge owns a couple of international patent applications relating to its water treatment technologies, as well as at least one U.S. application and one European application. 

The international applications are WO/2010/121628, entitled “Backflushing filtration module and filtration system for cleaning fluids contaminated by particles” and WO/2009/003887, entitled “Filtration system comprising a plurality of filtration modules connected in parallel.”  Inge’s European application is EP2158958, entitled “Device and method for backwashing filter membrane modules.”

U.S. Patent Application Publication No. 2010/0051544 (’544 Application) is directed to an apparatus and method for backwashing filter membrane modules. 

Module rows (1a-1d) consist of four individual membrane modules, and each individual module includes a bundle of individual filtration modules.  The rows (1a-1d) together form a module rack.

Supply/drain lines (7a, 7b) carry raw water, which is supplied to each filter membrane module (2) through supply/drain ports (3a, 3b).  After filtration, the filtrate is drained via drain ports (4), flows through control valves (11a-11c) to filtrate collection line (5), and exits the module rack at central filtrate valve (6).

In backwashing mode, control valve (11b) of module row (1a) is closed on the supply side while the associated control valve (11a) on the drain side is open.  The supply side control valves in supply/drain line (7b) remain open. 

Thus, in the backwashing mode the filtrate produced by module rows (1b-1d) is pressed backwards through first module row (1a) to clean the filter membrane modules in that row.  The polluted backwashing water leaves through drain port (10) of the module rack via the other supply/drain line (7a). 

Each of the remaining module rows (1b-1d) is subsequently backwashed in succession in the same manner.

According to the ’544 application, this approach reduces the risk of contamination due to water stagnating in a backwash reservoir. 

Also, because some module rows continue to produce the filtrate that is used for backwashing while one of the rows is being backwashed, the invention eliminates the need for a backwashing pump:

The advantage of the approach according to the present invention lies in particular in that a backwashing reservoir with the associated backwashing pump can be dispensed with. This is because, during the backwashing mode, with the exception of the module row to be backwashed, the remaining module rows are operated in the filtration mode, so that they produce filtrate which is directly used for backwashing the module row switched in the backwashing mode.

According to the inge press release (inge_release), the acquisition is expected to close in Q3 2011.

Court Orders Former GE Employee to Cease Wind Patent Licensing Activity

May 18th, 2011

 

In a previous post, I wrote about a lawsuit between GE and Thomas Wilkins, a former GE employee, over the rights to certain wind turbine technology.

In that suit, GE has accused Wilkins, an electrical engineer who had worked for Enron Wind and then GE after it acquired Enron, of breaching his employment agreements with both companies by his actions with respect to U.S. Patent Nos. 6,924,565 (’565 Patent) and 6,921,985 (’985 Patent).

The ’985 Patent relates to a blade pitch control system, and the ’565 Patent relates to power control systems for wind turbines.

GE alleges that Wilkins refused to assist in the prosecution of the application that matured into the ’565 Patent, recently asserted an ownership interest in and offered to license the ’565 Patent on a publicly-available web site, and recently asserted an ownership interest in and offered to license the ’985 Patent to Mitsubishi (ge-wilkins_am_complaint.pdf).

In an Opinion and Order decided earlier this month (GE-Wilkins_Opinion), Judge Oliver Wanger held that the technology of the ’565 and ’985 Patents presumptively belongs to GE because Wilkins conceived the inventions while working as an employee of GE for the purpose of developing the technology and “being paid to invent.” 

Although Wilkins did some development work as an employee of Enron, the court found no evidence that the scope of his job duties changed when he transferred from Enron to GE.

Therefore, the court concluded that Wilkins likely does not own the patents-at-issue:

Based on the current record, it does not appear that Defendant has rights in the subject technology sufficient to permit Defendant to license the technology to Plaintiff’s competitors.

Judge Wanger granted GE’s motion for a preliminary injunction and ordered Wilkins to stop licensing or offering to license the ’565 and ’985 Patents until the lawsuit is resolved or the court decides otherwise:

For the reasons stated, Defendant Thomas Wilkins and those acting in concert with him, and those who have actual notice of this order, are enjoined and restricted from licensing or offering to license any interest in the technology described in the ’565 and ’985 patents, or from making any representation that Wilkins is presently legally entitled to license such technology, pending the entry of a final judgement in this action or further order of the court.

Mitsubishi has intervened in the case.  The ’985 Patent is one of several asserted by GE against Mitsubishi in at least two lawsuits, including a patent infringement case in Texas and an investigation in the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), for which GE is appealing the ITC’s ruling.  Among other things, Wilkins’ inventive contributions to the ’985 Patent were at issue in the ITC case.

The ’985 Patent is also one of the patents-at-issue in Mitsubishi’s antitrust suit against GE, in which it has accused its rival of engaging in an anticompetitive scheme to monopolize the U.S. market for variable speed wind turbines.  The antitrust suit has been stayed pending resolution of the patent infringement suits.

Pilot Error: Sarah Tran Critiques the USPTO Green Patent Fast Track

May 15th, 2011

 

In a new article, Sarah Tran, a professor at Southern Methodist University School of Law, provides the first (to my knowledge) academic review and critique of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) Green Technology Pilot Program (GTPP).

Entitled “Expediting Innovation:  The Quest for a New Sputnik Moment,” and soon to be published in the Harvard Environmental Law Review, the article provides an interesting take on how the USPTO should promote innovation and commercialization of “high priority” technologies.

Tran lays out her thesis as follows:

My basic thesis is that the PTO should reduce the obstacles that prevent applications involving beneficial green technologies from being expedited and collaborate with other agencies to select more categories of high-priority technologies for accelerated review.  By reviewing more types of patent applications at a rate proportional to their social value, the PTO could better optimize the constitutional patent bargain while responding to critical public needs.

Tran believes the USPTO should take steps to expedite review of patent applications relating to “socially valuable” technologies, including green technologies, and examines the GTPP as a useful but flawed model for such reform.

The two major flaws, according to Tran, are insufficient benefits for applicants that participate in the program and the difficulty of meeting the eligibility requirements for the program.

Tran says the USPTO inflated the value of the GTPP by exaggerating the average pendency of a green tech patent application, observing that the average pendency for applications in the most common green tech art units was 34.6 months instead of the 40-month benchmark cited by the USPTO.

Thus, waiting 26 months for a final decision in the GTPP is less significant given the lower actual average pendency and does not provide sufficient benefit for applicants to bear the extra burdens of petitioning to enter the program.

I suspect, however, that the 26-month figure has been skewed due to the initial requirement that limited eligibility to already pending applications and may improve as a result of the USPTO’s elimination of the requirement in November 2010 as more newly-filed applications enter the program.

Tran also calls the eligibility requirements for the GTPP excessive, reciting the list of restrictions relating to claims and types of eligible applications. 

As a practitioner, I think the concerns here are overstated.

The requirements that the claims number twenty or fewer with three or fewer independents and the need to agree to a telephonic election of a single invention are fairly benign and, in effect, not much different from what happens in the ordinary patent application process.

I suspect that excluding reissues, provisionals, reexaminations and design applications from the program has little impact as well.

The two most onerous restrictions of the program - the technology class requirement and the above-mentioned limitation to pending applications - have been eliminated by the USPTO.

Finally, Tran thinks the limited one-year duration of the program prevents it from providing sufficient incentive for green innovation.  One year “is insufficient time for an inventor to conceive of an idea, reduce it to practice, and prepare an application for invention.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Tran’s call to make the GTPP permanent in order to foster green innovation:

unless the program is put into some long-term or permanent form that would enable inventors to gain a reward for their investment of time and resources in inventing green technologies, the program cannot be expected to “fuel further innovation.”

Recent comments by a key USPTO official about the chances the program will be extended provide a glimmer of hope that Tran’s vision of a long-term extension will be fulfilled.

XP’s Equalized Cells to Provide Xtremely Large Scale Energy Storage

May 11th, 2011

 

Xtreme Power (XP) is a Kyle, Texas, advanced battery maker which provides and operates integrated energy storage and power management systems. 

Marketed as the Dynamic Power Resources (DPR) product line, XP’s systems combine energy storage and control capabilities in a modular approach that provides flexibility in size for various scale grid and off-grid applications.

XP owns at least one U.S. patent and several pending patent applications relating to its technology, which aims to efficiently equalize batteries, i.e., reduce the gap between the weakest and strongest cell in a battery pack.

At least two of XP’s patent applications – Publication Nos. 2008/0088276 (’276 Application) and 2009/0134718 (’718 Application) – are directed to battery packs having a uniform or optimum DC environment for every cell in the battery pack. 

U.S. Patent No. 7,808,131 (’131 Patent) also relates to a battery pack connection scheme that achieves a synchronized DC environment for the cells.

The ’276  Application describes a battery pack (100) having batteries (101, 102), a positive terminal (106), a negative terminal (108), and cables (111, 112, 121, 122) connecting the batteries to the terminals in a parallel fashion.

The connections form uniform parallel conductive paths, as shown in the circuit diagram below.  In particular, the first cable (111), first battery (101), and second cable (112) form a parallel circuit with the third cable (121), second battery (102), and fourth cable (122).

The circuit branch consisting of cable (111), battery (101) and cable (112) is similar and preferably identical to the branch consisting of cable (121), battery (102) and cable (122).  More particularly, resistance, inductance, and capacitance are modeled for each cable and those values for cable (112) are very close to corresponding values for cable (122).

According to the ’276 and ’718 Applications, this configuration makes the voltage and current nearly uniform throughout the cells:

A battery pack connection scheme is shown that provides a synchronized DC environment for every cell in the pack, such that every cell in the same or similar voltage level in the pack sees an identical, or very similar, voltage and current environment.

XP’s battery technology has impressed at least one major utility as the company was selected by Duke Energy to provide what would be the largest (36 MW) energy storage system linked to a wind farm at a planned wind plant in west Texas.

GPB Makes Lexis Top 50 Environmental & Climate Change Blogs

May 8th, 2011

 

I am very pleased to announce that Green Patent Blog has been selected as one of the top 50 environmental law and climate change blogs by the LexisNexis Environmental Law & Climate Change Community.

It was humbling to be nominated back in January, and it is a tremendous honor to make the top 50 (see the Lexis announcement here).

The LexisNexis community said Green Patent Blog covers “a niche topic whose time has definitely arrived” and had kind words about the writing style:

There is a welcome clarity to the writing here, which goes a long way toward helping the uninitiated follow complex patent law issues.

This makes me particularly happy because I always strive to make my blog accessible to both lawyers and non-lawyers.

I believe green IP issues are important in the struggle to mitigate climate change, and I hope my writings on the subject reach a diverse audience.

Thank you for the wonderful honor LexisNexis!

Cree and Takion Add to Surge of LED Patent Litigation

May 6th, 2011

Cluster of LEDs mounted on a screw-in base

LED patent litigation remains hot, with two new lawsuits filed last month.  In the first, North Carolina LED maker Cree sued SemiLEDs Optoelectronics (SemiLEDs), alleging that SemiLEDs’ MvpLED product line infringes six patents.

The complaint (Cree-Semileds-Complaint), filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, asserts U.S. Patent Nos. 7,737,459 (’459 Patent), 7,211,833 (’833 Patent), 7,611,915 (’915 Patent), 6,657,236 (’236 Patent), 7,795,623 (’623 Patent), and 7,557,380 (’380 Patent).

The ’833 and ’915 Patents are part of a family that relates to gallium nitride LEDs having a silicon carbide (SiC) substrate in a “flip-chip” mounted configuration, i.e., the LED is mounted so the substrate side faces upwards away from the LED package, or submount. 

An LED (100) includes a substrate (20) and an epitaxial region (30) on the substrate.  There is a multilayer conductive stack (35) and an ohmic layer (32) on the epitaxial region (30) opposite the substrate (20). 

A reflector layer (34) is on the ohmic layer (32) opposite the epitaxial region, and a barrier layer (36) is opposite the reflector layer (34). 

According to the ’833 and ’915 Patents, this configuration has several advantages over existing SiC-based LEDs, including increased resistance to high temperatures, higher shear strength of bonds between the LED and the submount, and improved conductivity.

The ’236 Patent is directed to LEDs having light extraction structures, which boost efficiency by reflecting, refracting or scattering light so that more light escapes the LED. 

The ’380 and ’623 Patents relate to LEDs having a reduced conductivity region aligned with a non-transparent feature such as a wire bond pad, and the ’459 Patent is directed to an LED having particular output characteristics (radiant flux at 20 milliamps current of at least 29 milliwatts at its dominant wavelength).

In the second case, a Japanese company called Takion sued a host of LED manufacturers including GE, LEDtronics, Sharp, Philips, and Toshiba for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,577,072 (’072 Patent).

According to the complaint (Takion-GE_Complaint), filed in federal court in Seattle, various LED lamp devices produced by the defendants infringe the ’072 Patent, including GE’s LED7PAR20/NFL, LEDtronic’s ATS-200R-5 LED traffic light replacement lamp, and Philips’ 5E-26A60 product.

The ’072 Patent is directed to an LED lamp and power supply unit that can be directly connected to an AC power supply.  The power supply unit includes a wave rectifier and an electric power output.

The unit is configured so the output admits electric power only when the voltage of the rectified wave corresponding to each half period of the wave of the AC power supply voltage is equal to or heigher than a predetermined value.

According to the ’072 Patent, the invention allows direct connection of the LED lamp to an AC power supply without unduly comprising efficiency or losing too much power by heat dissipation.

These two complaints are the latest in a recent surge of LED patent litigation, including a suit between Philips and Seoul Semiconductor and enforcement by Nichia and Altair Engineering.

No Inverter Required: Analyzing Array’s Patented PAM Current Converters

May 4th, 2011

Array Converter (Array) is a Sunnvale, California, company that designs inverter-less solar power systems to directly convert the direct current (DC) electricity produced by solar modules into alternating current (AC) for the grid.

Array owns several patents relating to its converter technology, including U.S. Patent No. 7,884,500 and a patent family consisting of U.S. Patents Nos. 7,719,864, 7,929,324, and 7,929,326 (collectively “Converter Patents”).

The Converter Patents are directed to a DC to pulse amplitude modulated (PAM) current converter, which is referred to by its acronym, PAMCC, and to electrical power conversion systems comprising arrays of PAMCCs.

A PAMCC (400) receives direct current from a photovoltaic panel (401) through positive and negative input terminals (402, 403), each connected in series with coils L1 (406) and L2 (405), respectively.  These coils comprise a single transformer T1 (407).

A controller (412) controls several independent lines (419-422) of circuits (423-426).  Capacitors (438, 440) are across the input side of coils (430, 432), respectively and a neutral output terminal (432).

Control signals on lines 411 and 419-422 connect and disconnect the current provided by the PV panel (401) in sequence within the PAMCC (400) in such a way as to provide an output whose amplitude is a PAM signal approximating a sine wave.

Several claims of the Converter Patents are directed to a plurality of PAMCCs and recite the following key feature:

the current pulses of at least two converters are out of phase with respect to each other, thereby summing the current pulses of all of the converters such that a signal modulated onto the pulse output of the converters is demodulated

According to the Converter Patents, when an array of PAMCCs are connected in parallel such that the PAMCCs’ output pulses are out of phase with respect to each other, the result is an AC current waveform suitable for both local load use and connection to the utility grid:

An array of PAMCCs constructed in accordance with the present invention form a distributed multiphase inverter whose combined output is the demodulated sum of the current pulse amplitude modulated by each PAMCC. If the signal modulated onto the series of discontinuous or near discontinuous pulses produced by each PAMCC was an AC current sine wave, then a demodulated, continuous AC current waveform is produced by the array of PAMCCs. This AC current waveform is suitable for use by both the “load”, meaning the premises that is powered or partially power by the system, and suitable for connection to a grid.  For example, in some embodiments an array of a plurality of PV-plus-PAMCC modules are connected together to nominally provide split-phase, Edison system 60 cps 240 volt AC to a home.

Other advantages discussed by the Converter Patents include that the high voltage portion of the PAMCC is physically very small (a few square inches) and can be located on the back of a solar panel assembly, making insulation simple and lightweight.

Array’s web site touts the simplicity of the inverter-less technology and notes that it is “less than a quarter of the complexity of the simplest power inverter without the need of short-lived filled or plastic film components.”  

The bottom line, though, is cost:

Simplicity means every cost is reduced while Array Converter improves LCOE by both reducing each cost and increasing energy harvest.

Green Leaf Greenwash?: Letter to FTC Targets CBS EcoAds Program

May 1st, 2011

 

EcoMedia, a division of CBS, owns six pending trademark applications for the marks ECOAD and ECOAD (and Design) (shown above), for various services including fundraising for environmental protection and media and advertising services (see, e.g., ECOADS_85089838_App, ECOADS_85184033_App, and ECOADS_85184040_App). 

Through its EcoAds program, EcoMedia allows advertisers to direct a portion of their ad dollars to local environmental projects such as energy efficient retrofits and renewable energy installations.  When they do so, their advertisements display the ECOAD design mark.

Recently several environmental groups sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requesting that the agency investigate the EcoAds program, issue a warning to EcoMedia, and suggest revisions to the program (ecoad_letter). 

The groups include the Center for Environmental Health, Rainforest Action Network, Friends of the Earth, and Ecopreneurist.

The groups’ main concern is that the ads do not make clear to consumers that the environmental benefit signaled by the ECOAD design mark relates only to the funding of community environmental programs and is not necessarily connected to the advertising company or advertised product:

the EcoAd green leaf symbol appears by itself, without explaining that it simply means that money from the advertisement is funding community environmental programs.  From the consumer’s perspective, the message is that either the product being advertised or the company who purchased the advertisement has some positive environmental attribute.

According to the letter, the EcoAds program in its current form violates the FTC Act and the FTC’s Green Guides by making “general environmental benefit claims” without clarifying when environmental attributes refer to a product, its packaging, or a service, as well as failing to include qualifying language about the nature of the environmental benefits associated with the ad.

The environmental groups have requested that the FTC suggest revisions to the EcoAd program such as adding text to each use of the ECOAD design mark to alert viewers that the logo does not specify environmental attributes of products or companies. 

The groups also want CBS EcoMedia to develop criteria for evaluating advertisers and products for participation in the EcoAds program.

In my view the latter is not necessary because both the issue and the fix here are straightforward. 

The key question is whether it is clear to consumers that the ECOAD design mark signals only that some of the advertiser’s dollars have gone to a local environmental project and says nothing about the advertiser’s products or business practices. 

If there is some ambiguity which causes consumers to believe the advertiser itself or the product being advertised has environmentally friendly attributes, then the EcoAd logo may constitute greenwashing.

The solution is equally straightforward and requires no information about or evaluation of the advertising companies or advertised products:  simply make EcoMedia prominently include with each advertisement a clear statement about what the ECOAD design mark signifies and what it does not.